By Stuart Broomer
Friction is the seventh CD released by cellist Daniel Levin’s quartet since 2003 and its consistency has been remarkable, both in its personnel and its music. Vibraphonist Matt Moran has been there since the beginning and trumpeter Nate Wooley arrived on the second CD in 2006, replacing Dave Ballou; only the bass chair has had three occupants: Joe Morris and Peter Bitenc for three CDs each and now Torbjörn Zetterberg. The group feeds on that developed dialogue (and perhaps the shifting bass role), because it’s the embodiment of chamber free jazz, at times playing with abandon, at others with an acute attention to the delicate elaboration of texture and tonal nuance.
Levin the composer creates an unusual breadth of expressive moods and dimensions. Opener “Launcher” immediately establishes the new configuration’s authority: a brief, rapid-fire theme hung on storming bass launches a fierce group improvisation with a propulsion that shows drums won’t be missed while foregrounding every instrument in the band. In
contrast, “Chol” is almost a dirge, its mournful, pitchbending theme articulated by cello and trumpet against a background of somber bowed bass and bell-like tolling of vibraphone. Levin’s stunning glissando chords suggest the cries of a dissonant chorus while Wooley finds a naked lyric intensity rarely heard away from Sketches of Spain. There’s a remarkable evolution of textures here that depends on the flexibility of the individual bandmembers and a collective flow, including the sheer emotional and musical power of bowed cello and bass together. “Whisper” is utterly different again, a slow unfolding of sounds set just above silence exploring each musician’s sonic resourcefulness. At times Levin and Zetterberg’s arco passages seem to exchange identities and fuse.
Levin’s concentrated, sustained quartet compositions are set off by two duo improvisations, “Terrarium I” by Wooley and Moran, and “Terrarium II”, by Moran and Zetterberg. Each is a relatively light, playful dialogue, other aspects to a remarkable band.